By Karin Caifa in Washington, D.C.
"Hi, this is Barack Obama. I have an important announcement and I wanted all of you - the people who built this movement from the bottom-up to hear it first."
With a simple web video this morning, Barack Obama added another "first" to an already unprecedented White House run. "We've made the decision not to participate in the public-financing system for the general election," he continued. "This means we'll be forgoing more than $80 million in public funds during the final months of this election."
It also means he can spend as much money as he wants to win the White House. Obama becomes the first major party presidential candidate to opt out of public general election financing since the system's inception in 1976 - the first post-Watergate election. If Obama had stuck with the system, he'd have been limited only to that $85 million in funds, and would have been unable to raise or spend money directly from individuals.
The decision was likely influenced by the army of over 1.5 million donors Obama recruited through grassroots web efforts throughout his primary campaign. Those individual donors have helped him raise a total over $272 million since January 2007, a number that dwarfs John McCain's tally of $99 million in the same period. To agree to federal general election funds would have stifled Obama's ability to spend, as the candidates who accept public money are bound to pre-determined spending caps.
The Republicans wasted no time pointing out several instances during the campaign where Obama said he would pursue public fundraising. The McCain campaign issued a statement this morning that said, "Barack Obama has revealed himself to be just another typical politician who will do and say whatever is most expedient for Barack Obama."
"The true test of a candidate for President is whether he will stand on principle and keep his word to the American people," the statement from McCain communications director Jill Hazelbaker continued. "Barack Obama has failed that test today, and his reversal of his promise to participate in the public finance system undermines his call for a new type of politics."